The federal government announced new advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which recommends not administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 50 because of an extremely rare but serious blood clot side effect.
The announcement comes as a major blow to Australia’s vaccine strategy, which was reliant on 50 million locally produced AstraZeneca doses to be manufactured at Melbourne’s CSL facility.
More people under 50 will now receive the Pfizer jab, with health workers pushed to the front of the queue.
Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier this morning said SA Health had sent emails out to all SA AstraZeneca clinics to provide the latest advice and that people concerned about vaccination appointments should call their clinics to ask for advice.
“It may be that you do go into the clinic and have discussion with people at the clinic, you may need to ring up if you’re of that particular age,” Spurrier told ABC radio.
“It’s going to be messy today – I don’t think there’s any way around that.”
Dr Alvin Chua, a GP at an Adelaide clinic, said his practice had been “inundated” with abusive callers following last night’s announcement.
“Phones gone berserk. Patients with questions. Some who’ve had the AZ [vaccine] and under 50 now asking what they need to do,” Chua told InDaily.
“Receptionists copping abuse for not being able to answer questions. Other patients on hold waiting for ages also abusive when they finally get through for being put on hold.
“Meanwhile patients ‘expecting’ medical advice on phone. And meanwhile government mandates compulsory bulk billing for what is less than half of what we would normally charge for a standard consult.
“GPs thrown under the bus again by a government that is making health policy by media. Extremely frustrating for us all.”
Our phone lines have already been inundated and staff copping abuse! All unfounded whilst #justaGP wears all risks! We’re about to ditch this Covax rollout as our goodwill is being exhausted! @RACGP @RACGPPresident @amapresident @ama_media https://t.co/bjQlCZnJhV
— Dr. Alvin Chua (@alvchua) April 8, 2021
Chua said his practice had gone from taking 330 to 350 calls a day to up to 987 calls after the GP vaccine rollout was launched three weeks ago.
This included one day with 1087 missed calls.
“Since the government throwing us under the bus with ‘ring your GP’ instead of our initial agreement to use their online booking portal, our daily call volumes have increased,” Chua said.
“We just don’t have the ability and staff to cope with the influx and phone calls and we are one of the clinics allocated 400 doses a week and have been complying with government expectations to accept new patients.
“Enough is enough. Our goodwill cannot continue being exploited like this.
We have reception staff in tears, nurses working under stress and doctors really questioning why we are even bothering any more.
Practice Manager at Health at Campbelltown and Health at Newton Kirrilea McFee said there were not many booking cancellations after last night’s announcement, but “everyone wants to talk about it so the calls are a lot longer”.
“[It’s] the same amount of busy it has been all week but as the calls are longer [it] feels harder,” McFee said.
“Also the fact that we don’t have any information on when we may get Pfizer – people are not happy.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Karen Price said GPs are “well positioned” to discuss the latest information with patients, but urged the public to speak to staff with respect.
“I appreciate some patients will be feeling uncertain about the … vaccine rollout,” Price said on Twitter.
“I urge you to be patient with general practices responding quickly to this latest news.
“Please speak to staff, including receptionists/admin workers, with respect. We are doing our best.”
South Australia currently has the nation’s second lowest rate of vaccinations per 100 people – behind only NSW.
Spurrier could not give an exact figure on the number of Pfizer vaccines currently in South Australia, but said there will be enough to cover the state’s frontline health workers.
“We’ve got quite a number of the freezers, and so we’ve been able to have Pfizer also in some of our country areas,” she said.
“So this is all of the logistics about working out how we now pivot over to Pfizer for a different age cohort, we just need to have a look through that today.
“I think it’s going to slow it down – this is really unfortunate.”
She added that SA Health would talk to the federal government to determine how the rollout is going to be “pivoted and repositioned”.
“I think what South Australians should feel very confident about is that as soon as we had this information, we’ve shared it and we’re making changes on the basis of that,” she said.
“But it does mean we’re going to have to look as a nation for some alternatives.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the government’s vaccine portfolio, arguing the AstraZeneca change was made out of an abundance of caution.
“We’ll get through it. We’ll protect everybody,” he told ABC radio.
“There will be some adjustments but we’ll keep everybody safe and we’ll get them vaccinated.”
South Australia recorded two new cases of COVID-19 today, while a man in his 40s remains in hospital in a critical condition.
SA Health has administered a total of 34,707 vaccines since the rollout began on February 22, including 1695 jabs given on Thursday.
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